Saturday, March 31, 2012

Grandpa = Rocker

When you read the title "Grandpa = Rocker" you may have pictured a gray haired old gentleman sitting on a front porch in the south, a small table with a glass of sweet tea, maybe an old red-bone hound laying at his feet.  Or, depending on where you are from, you may have pictured that same gentleman sitting by a window, overlooking the city, passing the time with the TV on but not noticing it at all.  You may have pictured those things, sure, but I am almost positive that you did not picture a sexagenarian blasting an eighties metal band on the radio when his grand kids came to visit!

You may think I am kidding, but that is what happened to me...sort of.

Well, first I think I should explain that Grandpa wasn't really 'blasting' the music.  It wasn't so much 'blasting' as it was softly playing in the background.  I equate my grandparent's house with music.  It was on all the time.  The only time the music wasn't playing was when the TV was on so Grandpa could watch golf in 'his' chair.  Their living room was set up very much like All in the Family, complete with his and her easy chairs...but my grandfather's did not make it into the Smithsonian like Archie Bunker's did.  When we played cards (a lot) the music was on.  When I read the stack of Reader's Digests to absorb all the 'Humor in Uniform', 'Laughter the Best Medicine' and 'All in a Day's Work' the music played.  When we ate, music.  When we came in from playing outside, music.  When we were hearing the benefits of having a refrigerator converted to be a keg cooler with built-in-tap out the side, music.  It was always playing.  On a few occasions we were even lucky enough to have Grandpa play us a few songs on his piano.  He was very talented at playing classical music.

You wouldn't have thought that someone like that would have listened to metal.  I'm here to tell happened!  There is no denying it.  It is burned into my memory with an image that is like I looked at the sun too long.  To add to the things that didn't make sense about this choice of music, it was being played on a very old fashioned stereo.  Their ever-playing stereo was gigantic.  It was a piece of furniture.  It was a wooden case that had to be five feet wide.  The front panels on either side held decorative mesh that allowed the sound to come out the biggest speakers I had ever seen.  Although not quite as fancy as modern day, these speakers rivaled the size that kids put into their cars these days.  You know, the ones who rattle windows with muffled base and make it so you have to go straighten all your pictures.  The main unit and the electronics of the stereo (they called it a hi fi) were in the center of this giant wooden, and very well cared for, box.  The way you adjusted the station, volume, band, or any other option was to lift the top panel.

You could put a decorative vase off to one side on this cabinet.  You could put pictures on the other.  But you could not put anything on top of the middle since, to open it, you needed to be able to lift it up.  Well, you needed to be able to lift it up if you wanted to change grandpa's might have been nailed shut.  I looked inside a few times (when he was getting into it) and I could see that everything was built in.  This wasn't a giant cabinet that held a was the stereo!  Everything was built in and when it died beyond the ability to repair it (you see kids...way back when, there were people who actually fixed things that were broken and didn't just buy new ones) this was the kind of cabinet that people took all the guts out of to make a place to store liquor.  I can neither confirm not deny that this cabinet suffered this fate at the hands of my family.  At this point in my story, the stereo was very much functional.

I remember we were there at their house for what was probably an annual visit.  No big occasion, just Mom going to see "her folks."  I was in the kitchen playing solitaire (There were always cards on the table.  If there was no partner to play gin or cribbage, you played solitaire) when I heard the music.  It was the instrumental music that was the soundtrack to their house.  I kept playing cards.  This piece was done by a harpist and it was the slow melodic instrumental elevator music that was ever-present.  At this point in the story it would have been hysterical if the radio station had been sold and the new owner wanted to not only change the format but punctuate the change by dragging the needle across the record and starting a new record that was designed to shock and amaze.  This is not what happened.  What did happen is that I started to recognize something in the music.  I remember that it was one of those times when there was something familiar but I just couldn't put my finger on it.  I rejected the notion that I was actually becoming familiar with this music.  It  was the early eighties!  I did NOT listen to this music and you could not get me to admit that I did...even at my grandparents' house.  And still...something made me listen to try to figure it out.

This is my version of harp music translated to the written word..."plunkplunk plunkplunkplunk...PLUNK plunkplunkplunk....plunkplunk PLUNK PLUNK PLUNK, PLUNK PLUNK PLUNNNNNK"

I kept listening.  So familiar.  I probably looked like the dog in the iconic RCA advertisement.  Quizzical look on my face.  Head cocked to the side.  I was probably holding a single card in the air frozen in time trying  to see if I could figure out what was up with this music.  And then it hit me.  I had heard this before.  In fact, I was blasting it out the windows of my 1974 VW Super Beetle as I cruised into the parking lot at school the week before.  The only difference was that my stereo, before it was stolen from my car, was tremendously powerful and I really was blasting it!  I thought the stereo and the car that I had lovingly transformed from a literal wreck into a showpiece were hot stuff!  There was no harp, however, playing on the stereo in my car though.

There, in the kitchen, I figured it out.  They had taken a song that I listened to and removed all the vocals.  They had taken away any hint of an electric instrument and replaced them all with a harp and a gentle piano accompaniment.  They had slowed it down to probably quarter-speed to turn one of my favorite songs, at that time, into something suitable for an elevator...or my grandparents' house.  So I sat there laughing hysterically not having the heart to tell them that they were, in fact, listening to Quiet Riot's "Come on Feel the Noize!"  

Sunday, March 25, 2012


I haven't thought about this for years, and I thought I would share the story with you today.  Jake was talking about how he had "almost bowled 200" when he went bowling with friends from school last Thursday.  (Mental note, teach Jake how to "round up" properly.)  He was a wee bit away from 200 but it made me remember when I almost bowled a 200 myself.  But to tell you that story I have to tell you about my last memory of my grandfather.

My sister, brother, and I were out being big shots.  I think it was the first time we were this far away from home, together, without meeting our parents somewhere.  We were in our late teens or maybe even early twenties.  I don't remember why we were away but we were and we were relatively close to my grandparents' house in Fresno.  I remember it like I am there now.  The house across from the school on Blackstone.  The kitchen off to the right of the front door.  The sunken living room with the odd floor length structural shelf running about eight feet off the ground that at one point had a painting of a black panther on it..but not now.  The painting was my aunt and uncle's.  The giant HiFi in its wooden cabinet (that's a gigantic iPod for all you youngsters) playing elevator music that was a story in itself.  My grandmother fussing in the kitchen making us a meal for lunch.  Finally, there was Grandpa sitting at the far end of the table.

Grandpa had been slowing down a lot lately.  He had given up his car years ago.  Their many yearly vacations had ended too.  Groceries were being delivered rather than going out.  He was an avid bowler.  On a league with the same people for a very long time.  And yet, he had given that up as well.  He actually gave me his four-holed bowling ball at one point.  Always someone who had story after story to tell, today he sat at the far end of the table silently.  We all said hello but I am not sure grandpa did much more than look our way.  Our usually gregarious patriarch was content to just sit, listen, and eat.  Grandma kept the conversation going today.  We talked about what we were doing in our lives of school and work.  None of us commented on how odd it was to have a silent grandfather at the table.  I was saddened by what was happening but would never have been so rude as to talk about someone as if they weren't there.  Even if, in reality, it was obvious that he wasn't really one hundred percent there with us.

Grandpa had Alzheimers and it was robbing him of himself and robbing us of his personality and his stories.  Truth be told, any one of us could have started any number of his stories and stopped mid-sentence only to have another pick it up and continue on to the end without skipping a beat we had heard them all so many times.  About how he lost his dad as a boy.  About how he was replaced by a computer the size of a building and that let him have early retirement.  About how his sister embarrassed him on his way to work one day when she yelled out his nickname, "BABE!" on the cable car.  He could make me laugh by telling me just the punchline to a joke we had heard a thousand times before.  "I said LEFT!" was a favorite.  Today, nothing.

We all ate, I think it was soup and sandwiches but I will defer to my sister if she says I am wrong, and we weren't planning on staying for the night since that would have been a burden on Grandma.  And since we had a ways to go before we got home, we started to make motions like we were getting ready to go.  It was a process.  It has often been said that our family is the clan of the half-hour good byes.  We say we have to go...then talk some more.  We joke that we already said we were going to go...then talk some more.  We start to move toward the door...then we talk some more.  We go stand next to the cars...then talk some more.  My cousin Kim once told me, when my dad and I built a retaining wall around our front yard, that it would be the kiss of death as goodbyes go.  She said not only do we linger longer than anyone else in recorded history, now we have provided benches next to the cars!

Today we sat at the kitchen table sensing that the stand and chat by the door portion of our good bye would be minus a member.  It finally came down to the part where we finally put our hands on the table to start to get up when I remembered.  "OH!"  I said.  "Grandpa!  I meant to tell you!" I was a six year old again telling that I had seen a frog in the back yard.  "With your bowling ball!  I bowled my best game ever!  I bowled a 199!!"

With that news he started moving.  He never looked at me but put his hands on the arms of the chair and started to rise.  It looked to be considerable effort and it took him quite a while.  He raised slower than anyone I had ever seen and I was motionless.  When he was fully standing he reached out his arm and extended his hand.  I grabbed it and he shook it strongly, never saying a word.  And then he started the long process of sitting down.  We said our good byes to Grandma and we all left.  I never saw Grandpa again.  I also never got to break the elusive 200 mark on bowling.  That's OK.  If 199 is good enough for Grandpa, it's good enough for me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Registry Follies!

I am colorblind.  Not in a politically correct I-see-no-color-I-only-see-people sort of way.  More in a hey-is-that-light-red-or-green sort of way.  Because color is not my strong suit I honestly have no favorite.  I absolutely hate when people ask me what my favorite color is and then get angry when I say that I have none.  I have actually had people argue with me that I 'had' to have a favorite and to just 'tell them!'  Sorry, no good.

If you pinned me down and threatened to not let me have any dessert I suppose I would tell you that my favorite color for cars is white...because they stay clean.  My favorite color for houses is tan...because I like houses that look earthy.  My favorite color of lumber is brown...because it is brown.  Beyond that, it is really a case of it doesn't really matter.  I know that Sylvia's favorite color is green, but when I buy clothes for her I end up in the store asking complete strangers, "What color is this?" and then adding quickly, "My WIFE likes green." So they don't think I am some kind of moron using the world's worst pick-up-line.  (Honestly, I have never ever used any kind of a pick up line...ever!  I'm kind of proud of that!...even if I am a moron.)

I mention this about not being able to see colors primarily so I could tell you a story.  A friend is getting married and she posted on Facebook that she and her fiance are trying to register online and that they are going to have to go into the store since it was kind of boring doing it at home.  That comment reminded me of the time that Sylvia and I registered for our wedding gifts.

There we were, in the middle of Macy's, a salesperson shadowing our every decision...and a wall of towels.  I'm not even halfway was seriously a giant monument of absorption!  There were two Swiss yodelers wearing lederhosen and carrying ropes and canteens about to scale this thing.  I had been in department stores before but I had never really thought about buying a towel.  They were always in the hall closet.  I thought they just grew up out of the wooden shelves.  Even when I moved into my own apartment I went shopping at the store of 'Mom' and had all the towels I could ever need.  Now, not only did I need to tackle the terrycloth, I had to choose the "right" one.  Oh and believe me, there was a right one.  I didn't know that at the time, but there was a right one.

I remember like it was yesterday...Sylvia held up two towels that were identical in style, softness, and (as far as I knew) color.  She asked, "Which one do you like?"  Being the evolved male that I was I said, "I don't care."  Now more enlightened men than myself, who are reading this, are screaming, "ROOKIE MISTAKE!" at their computer monitors.  I need to explain that what I actually meant was, "Those towels look like they are the same in everything except color so I will let you choose since I can make no discernible distinction between the two...Buttercup."  What Sylvia heard was, "I do not now, nor will I ever, care about anything at all in our relationship from this day forth!"  (Apparently weddings are a bit more stressful for the bride than they are for the groom)  A chill grew over the department.  Off in the distance I heard the deep bass of the Jaws theme playing.  Of course if a giant shark actually showed up it would have just flopped around on bone-dry ground since there were enough towels to soak up the Pacific!  It took a bit of explaining on my part to get my lovely bride to see that I just couldn't tell the difference between towel A and towel B and it would be OK for her to choose.  She chose.  We registered for towels.  We moved on.

Then we came to the China patterns.  There was no chill in this department.  Customers were not rushing their small children out of the way as tumbleweeds rolled by.  I actually had opinions here!  We both decided that perfectly round was boring.  We chose the ones with slight points around the edge.  We both liked the gold rimmed sets. Neither one of us wanted plain white...there had to be some decoration on them.  We narrowed it down to two different sets, and one of them was green!  I deferred to Sylvia's favorite color and we chose.  Voila!  It can be done!  And just so I can get back into the good graces of the women who are reading, with utter contempt that I could be so insensitive, I not only know that we chose Fairchild but that we did not choose Kelly!  If I remember correctly, they were actually both green, but Kelly was a little darker and I couldn't envision it on our table at holidays.

The day went on.  I always had an opinion from then on.  I was wrong often, but I had an opinion.  We chose great wine glasses.  (I think there was a 'star' or 'icicle' in their name) We chose silver and a beautiful box for it to go in.  We chose things that I didn't even know existed in the realm of kitchenware but we had to have since it matched our set.  We were gravy boating and dish chafing.  We decided that we might actually need a device that injected flavor into a roast.  (thankfully nobody got us one of those...think of the comedy routines my twisted mind would have come up with!)  We moved along quite nicely...until we came to the butter dish.

Our set, (did I mention that it was Fairchild?), did not have a matching butter dish!  I screamed, "Well you could have told us that before we started!  Now we're back to square one!"  (OK so maybe it is a little stressful for the groom as well.)  We decided to look at non-matching, non-China butter dishes.  (the HORROR!)  Unlike the wall-O-towels, butter dishes were a rare commodity.  We wandered around aimlessly and found out that 'Kelly' actually did have one.  No, we decided, no looking back.  I asked the clerk to just show us anything that didn't look like it was formed from an old Cool Whip container and we would choose.  The clerk took us to the butter dish showroom and I fell in love.

There, on a spinning turntable (not really) was the butter dish of my dreams!  It was crystal!  The outside edge matched the edge of our plates!  The pattern in the crystal was similar to our glasses!  It was substantial.  It was awesome!  I yelled out, "That's it!  I really like this butter dish!"  No hesitation!  No glances at Sylvia to see what my answer should be.  I made a decision!  Sylvia picked it up, turned it over and over, kicked the tires, checked under the hood...and declared that it was really a great butter dish!  And then in true wedding-registry-frenzy style, she said, "Let's see if there's one better."

I'm happy to announce that we survived the day.  We did actually buy that butter dish.  And it took us no less than an hour and a half to choose the garbage can that would live next to our kitchen cabinets...but it really is a nice garbage can!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Abstinence: 101

With a title like, "Abstinence: 101" it is difficult to think of a first line.  Everything that I was thinking about writing sounded like the set-up lines for a series of crude "that's what she said" sorts of jokes.  Having said that, I want to assure you that I am simply writing today in order to be a benefit to society as a whole...and to make an obscenely large quantity of money.

I have never made it a secret that I am only writing in order to become rich and famous.  Oh sure, entertaining people is nice but Papa needs a new pair of shoes!  As of now, a year and a half since I began, I have made nearly twenty eight dollars.  Well technically I have nearly twenty eight dollars waiting patiently for me in an account that only generates checks when the total reaches $100.  But my three hundred and fifty year plan to become remarkably wealthy is coming along nicely!  (three weeks ahead of schedule I might add!)

Actually, I did have a hope for making a bit of money once and as odd as it sounds, the entire family being incredibly sick last week made me remember it...vividly!  I was once again the last man standing in a house full of sick people and the last time that happened I concocted a crazy plan.  I have told this old-time plan to a few people in my day and one of them said that it was the funniest thing that she had ever heard.  So here we are.

Way back when, when the kids were really little, another virus swept through the house.  It hit everyone...except me.  Sylvia was down.  Kristiana and Jacob were miserable.  I was exhausted.  And then 'it' happened.  In order to try to protect the kids I will not explain exactly which one 'it' happened to but I do need to go into a little detail.  I will just say that the kids were both old enough to get up and toddle off to the bathroom by themselves but, of course, when you are sick, all bets are off.  

It was late, I had probably been in bed for about an hour or so when I heard 'it.'  Any parent can tell you that there is a sound that will call you back from blissful REM sleep in an instant.  One of the kids was getting sick.  I wasn't even lucky enough, at this point, to lie there, fingers crossed, as we waited to hear, "....mommmmmeeeeeee!!"   Where I would then grin to myself, roll over, and give God a mental high-five for making "nurturer" be a large part of the female job description.  Honestly though Sylvia and I have a pretty good system and we were about 50/50 for when the kids would call out for either Sylvia or me.  No such luck tonight.  There was no way Sylvia was getting out of bed.  And if she tried to go take care of this particular situation, even on her best night, let's just say I would have been cleaning up a little more than usual.

Up I went.  Down the hall.  Into the room.  I heard, "I got sick." and then tears.  
"Don't worry sweetie (No gender clues here...they are both sweeties to me.  Especially when they are sick.) Daddy'll take care of it."

I did quite a bit of triage and was able to, with an ample supply of baby wipes and new jammies, get the poor dear into a newly sheeted bed.  Then my real work began.  

I bundled up the laundry and carried it to the kitchen.  I silently cursed, in an envious way, the people who have those large, deep, rectangular white utility sinks in their garages because I am convinced that this was truly what they were designed for.  And then I put the pile of bedding on the floor because I had mistakenly told myself, "I am exhausted, I will just do the dishes in the morning.  I need some sleep."  Now I not only had a situation that I needed to take care of, I had a situation that I needed to take care of before I could take care of the other situation.  It was a situation-full night.  I did what every red-blooded American man would do in this situation. I ripped off my shirt to show the giant "S" on my red and blue superhero suit! (internally)  Problem is, externally that action looked very similar to someone plopping down in a kitchen chair and putting his head in his hands.  In the desperate sleep deprived and slightly nauseated state I hate to admit but I did think, "I don't remember signing up for this."  And then it hit me.  THIS is what people don't know!  Hey!  I should fix that!

Not being known for thinking the same way as, well, anyone else in the universe, I decided to document my dilemma.  Yes, I grabbed the video camera.  Sylvia and I bought a video camera to capture life moments of the kids to show them later.  I thought this was one for the library.  Actually, what I thought was, if I could show this to all the teens in the world they would never have sex again.  I know, I know, quite a leap from doing laundry to abstinence but let's see if I can explain.

I set up the camera and started taping.  I was just narrating the whole time, telling what I experienced, as I took care of business.  I wasn't trying to be funny.  I was trying to be informative.  I grew up in the "Scared Straight" generation.  I saw what happened when they took troubled kids to prisons and had the prisoners tell them how it really was.  It scared the snot out of them.  I wanted to do the same thing...on a different level.  

I remember pointing in the air to try to show where the date and time would be in the corner of the TV screen.  I explained that everyone in the house was sick and that, even though I had just gone to bed a little while ago and needed to go to work in a few hours, I was up at this awful hour doing something that I never ever imagined myself doing...because I was a parent. I couldn't even see doing this for myself!  You see...I have yet to mention the punchline to my misery.  (Let me see how I can describe this without everyone yelling, "WHOA!!" and clicking away to check their e-mails.)  When a youngster gets sick stomach muscles contract to force the offending matter the opposite way up the throat.  These same muscles, as it turns out, are used to go to the bathroom.  In the case of a very young child who may not recognize that they were about to get sick...both actions may occur simultaneously.  Yup, you guessed it.  Both ends, as they say. 

I, in the interest of realism with a dash of sensationalism, described what I was going through in as painstaking detail as I could.  I didn't want to be gross but I did want to change kids' perceptions about having babies.  The way I saw it was that dolls that we give girls rarely cry, they never keep you from sleeping (unless they are named Chucky), and they never ever smelled like this!  I pointed out that I was using hot water and there was steam coming up from the sink.  I said something like, "Just imagine that this is stink you can see.  You can't even imagine what this smells like."  I also figured that when teens babysit or see their younger cousins it is always for a set period of time, it was generally not when they were sick, and there was always someone else who was ultimately responsible.  Not when you have your own child.  As my old boss used to say when assigning tasks or blame..."You're it baby!"  I ended my taping with some sort of closing that stated, "If you think this is gross or if you think that you wouldn't be able to handle this...don't do the activity that might make children be your responsibility!"

In the back of my mind I had worked it all out.  Sylvia would continue to pester Oprah until she finally created  the "Best Husband In The World" award, I would go on the show to accept my prize, and I would mention that I had this tape in my possession.  She would offer me thirty thousand dollars for it.  Sylvia and I could then afford to take the kids to Germany to meet their relatives.  I would be famous.  And on the back of my first book, under the picture of me holding a bubble blowing pipe and wearing a burgundy smoking jacket, it would say, "Jeff Garrett, sick kid laundry guy."

I think you know that it didn't happen quite that way.  Sylvia's innumerable pleas to create that award fell on deaf ears in Oprahland.  I was never on her show.  And I have a tape that is sitting in my closet that I couldn't even send to America's Funniest Videos because everything is digital now.  I suppose I could download it, somehow, to YouTube, and it would go viral, but since people on there only seem to seek to ridicule in their comments, I would not want to bring that kind of negative publicity to my poor kids.  I would however be willing to sell it to someone who offered me fifty thousand dollars (inflation).  The way I figure it, the kids could deal with a little ridicule while riding around in Daddy's new truck!